the camphor chest. We had one in my family home. It stood in the hall and it was my job to polish the brass bits on a Saturday. As you can imagine that’s not a teenager’s idea of a relaxing weekend and. although I was fond of the box because it contained all sorts of exciting bits of family textiles, I really hated having to clean it – hence my mixed feelings.
There was a very sensible reason for every home containing one of these chests. Camphor wood from Cinnamomum camphora is practically insect proof and its resinous scent is a strong deterrent to moths. This tall evergreen tree a relative of cinnamon, grows enormously quickly and is native to China and Japan but has been planted all over the world in warm sub-tropical conditions.
Old Chinese trunks are wonderfully carved, often with ships, as they were used to transport goods, but also symbols and dragons and scenes of everyday life.
If you have eaten in a serious Chinese restaurant you may even have eaten Camphor wood, or its leaves and twigs, because it is used to make a popular Szechuan smoked duck dish.
If intricate carving is not your thing you may like something like this – a 19th century camphor and leather campaign chest. Today it would be a great way to wage war on months!
This one is pretty – a Victorian Chinese trunk which has been painted but to European taste I suspect.
And here’s another painted one in darker shades. They are great to store blankets or woollies of any kind. If you happen to come across one – grab it!